Initial takeaways from the U.S. Senate investigation

Mark McGowan

Jimmy Dunne at the U.S. Senate hearing (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Wading through the documentation from the U.S. Senate’s investigation into the proposed PGA Tour, DP World Tour and PIF merger, there were several things that struck me.

Firstly, Jimmy Dunne’s email exchanges with Roger Devlin, chairman of Sunningdale Golf Club and a former board member of the R&A. Dunne, as anybody who’s been following the story will know, is a board member of the PGA Tour, president of the prestigious Seminole Golf Club in Florida, a member at Augusta National and Pine Valley among others, and is the vice chairman and senior managing principal at Piper Sandler, an American-based multi-national investment bank and financial services operator heavily involved in mergers and acquisitions.

Basically, he’s no dummy. In December of last year, Devlin contacted Dunne and introduced himself, adding that he’d part-facilitated the PIF’s takeover of Newcastle United, and had been asked by the Saudi sovereign fund’s governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan to help “find a solution” to the strife between LIV and the PGA Tour, adding that he’d organised a meeting between Rory McIlroy and Al-Rumayyan at the DP World Tour Championship in November which McIlroy agreed to but insisted that he was only speaking for himself and not the PGA Tour.


It was Dunne’s responses that interested me most, however, suggesting that they meet for an informal ‘coffee’ first, and when Devlin, in January, suggested flying to Florida but on the condition that there was basis for discussion as opposed to a simple get to know you, Dunne effectively rejected the olive branch saying “probably not at this time.”

It’s safe to assume, therefore, that Dunne and the PGA Tour felt that they were in a position of strength back in January, and were unwilling to come to the negotiating table. The final interaction between Devlin and Dunne was an email from the former on the 14th of April, stating his fear that the “Saudis would double down on their investment and golf will be split asunder in perpetuity.”

Four days later, Dunne sends a WhatsApp message to Al-Rumayyan asking for a call and potential visit.

The big question here is what happened in the three months in between that forced Dunne and the PGA Tour to abandon their bullish position and come to the negotiating table and the most obvious answer is money, and the most obvious sub-explanation is that they didn’t have enough of it.

It’s clear that the designated events and the increased Player Impact Program payments have put severe financial strain on the organisation, and this, combined with the legal costs of battling lawsuits were emptying the PGA Tour coffers at an exponential rate, and a ceasefire was the only way that the Tour, in its current guise at least, could weather the storm. Dunne himself at the Senate hearing said that LIV could “gut us” and that “LIV put us on fire,” while chief operating officer Ron Price spoke of the real “vulnerability of the PGA Tour.”

But how was this not foreseen, especially given the supposedly top business minds that comprise the Tour’s policy board? Did they think that the Saudis would just take their ball of money and go home, tail between their legs and say, “ah well, we’ve only spent $2 billion and suffered a humiliating defeat in the public eye?” Hardly.

The Tour therefore had to have believed that their model was sustainable and that the sponsors would be willing to pony up the funds to keep the show on the road, or at least that they could put LIV on the back foot for long enough to enter negotiations with the strongest possible hand. But Honda, one of the Tour’s longest serving sponsors walked away, and the goalposts were shifted on the promise that all of the PGA Tour’s star names would be present at the designated events. Good luck getting additional investment on the premise that the stars ‘might’ choose to play.

The situation that’s been created now is one where the merger has to succeed, and if it does, the PGA Tour will be in a stronger position than ever, but if it doesn’t, well, they’ve gone all in on a busted flush.

The second thing that caught my eye, and this one tickled a little, was among the foundational principles and objectives of the new venture, which stated that LIV players would have “unfettered access to majors (including the PGA Championship) as per normal qualifying criteria,” which came across as a bit of a drive-by shooting of the PGA Championship –  a major, yes, but clearly so far the minor that it had to be explicitly named.

Thirdly, proposals for consideration stated LIV’s desire that Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy become team owners and play in at least 10 LIV events. Given that Tiger has played in five tournaments in two years and that Rory would be performing the biggest heel-turn in sport since Hulk Hogan joined the NWO, this seems a bit of a reach.

But it was the proposal that Al-Rumayyan would receive memberships at both the R&A and at Augusta National that was the most interesting proposal of them all. This, it goes on to add, would then mean that LIV would then “review its senior management structure and Board composition.” Now, Augusta National is exclusive to the point that Bill Gates was denied membership back in 2000, when the Microsoft founder was the wealthiest man in the world. He’s since been admitted, but the green jackets dance to their own tune and aren’t likely to succumb to what may appear strong-arm tactics to get a foot in the door.

That’s not to say he won’t become a member. Holding the purse strings for the wealthiest sovereign fund in the world, there may be more than a few of those who regularly make their way down Magnolia Lane who’d be quite happy to rub shoulders with Al-Rumayyan and make billion-dollar deals whilst sipping brandies on the clubhouse terrace or while ambling round Amen Corner, but I’d not go putting the mortgage on it.

More likely, it’s a smokescreen. Make demands that are unlikely to be met and there is a greater chance that additional demands fly under the radar.

Either way, watch this space. There are many ‘t’s to be crossed and ‘i’s to be dotted before this thing is through, but one things for sure. Elite professional golf will never be the same again.

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